The modern era is full of writers who expound the essence of Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharat, Ramayan, Indian politics etc. Some sanskrit scholars did an indepth analysis and gave their own interpretations of the Indian scriptures. Many who did not know sanskrit gave their analysis based on the translations and interpretations done by other people. Of those who neither had a sound sanskrit knowledge or understanding of Indian culture, many ended up in distorting the Hindu scriptures under the guise of translating them. Wendy Doniger gave a sexual twist to the Indian scriptures, while Patrizia Norelli reduced them to a set of future predictions and claiming herself to be the “third” in the solar line of avatars.
There exist those who expound the philosophy of chakras in many twisted ways in the west as per their distorted interpretations, those who think yoga is just some physical exercise and can be done in many imaginative ways. Thus, we see different people are attracted to ancient Indian sciences and practices for different purposes. Some are attracted to fulfill their obsession for their fantasies and some who make a business out of those ancient Indian knowledge and practices which today are known under the umbrella term called ‘Hinduism’.
But then there exists those who promote Hinduism ‘politically’ but do not have a lucid understanding of Indian science and history. Such people usually end up distorting the facts and logic. Vedic philosophy is written as a metaphorical poetry, cryptic riddles which expounds the nature and the ultimate truth. Kenopanishad expounds it in the context of “that” and Krishna in Bhagvad Gita presents it in the form of “I and Me”. Those who could not understand this education system of Indian tradition through riddles saw it as some absurd content regarding literal meaning of cows, animals and many even misinterpreted ‘sacrifice’ as “killing”.
In the past, many distortions gave rise to the cast system ‘by birth’ thus degrading the scriptures which promote egalitarianism and varna system by ‘karma’. It was questioned by Buddha along with the animal killing practices propogated in the name of Vedas. Even today, the cast system is used by corrupt politicians for vote bank politics and sikhism is seen as disconnected from Hinduism, when on the contrary, sikhism promotes the gayatri mantra, Vedas and different manifestations or the divine elements of the same ultimate reality. Therefore, promotion of political knowledge without scriptural, spiritual and historical knowledge, may lead to serious distortion of the history and unfavourable outcomes.
One such case is of Koenraad Elst who can be seen writing pro-Hindu articles and books ‘politically’. Many Hindus admire his work and blindly follow his words. But if one analyzes carefully, he would understand that Mr.Elst is a non-practicing Hindu. He is a researcher who takes more interest in socio-cultural issues.
In his article on “The origins of Hatha Yoga“, He opines, “There too, a number of asana-s or postures is described, though important ones now popular in the Western (and westernized-Indian) yoga circuit, particularly standing ones, are still not in evidence even in these more recent texts. In the Yoga Sutra, they are totally absent. Patanjali merely defines Asana, “seat”, as “comfortable but stable”. In ancient times, a “yogi” might be someone who, as per Patanjali, practised stillness of mind; or he might be someone developing paranormal powers through concentration exercises, hence a magician. But the term “yoga” did not connote physical contortions. “
Mr. Elst seems to be ignorant of the ‘Surya Namaskar’, the age old practiced yoga series, considered as the mother of all yoga postures by many. He defines yoga totally from the Patanjali point of view, not even understanding that Patanjali was only the compiler, not the inventor of the Yoga. It is similar to the case where Vedvyasa compiled the Vedas in the written form during the start of Kaliyuga, before which they were originally passed from the sage to disciple in an oral tradition.
David Frawley, one of the most revered spiritualist and a sanskrit scholar, known as Pandit Vamdev states in his article “The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha”, “Several Upanishads like the Katha are said to be Yoga Shastras, besides numerous Yoga Upanishads that also do not emphasize Patanjali. The Puranas contain sections on Yoga said to be authoritative in nature as well and do not give importance to Patanjali. When such texts teach Yoga, they often do so with quotes from the older Vedas.
This means that the Patanjali Yoga Darshana is a later subset of the earlier Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. It is not a new or original teaching, nor was it ever meant to stand on its own. The topics addressed in it from yamas and niyamas to dhyana and samadhi are already taught in detail in the older literature. In the Mahabharata (Shanti Parva 316.7), the sage Yajnavalkya speaks of an eightfold Yoga taught in the Vedas. The Shandilya Upanishad refers to an eightfold or ashtanga Yoga but does not mention Patanjali.“
Mr.Koenraad Elst doesn’t realize that Yoga is not just a mental or a physical exercise alone but the union of both i.e mind and body for the better health and improvement of one’s own consciousness. The words like ‘Paranormal powers’ can only be used by someone who understands zilch about the Indian sciences. Controlling one’s own hunger is also Yoga. In the history of India, there were people who did Hinger strike for more than one week which was called as a ‘miracle’ by the doctors practicing modern medicine. e.g the hunger strike by Anna in 2011 for 12 days because of which he lost more than 5 kgs, hunger strike by Anna hazare in 2003 for more than 10 days, hunger strike by Swami Nigamanand for more than 70 days etc.
The terms like ‘magician’ are often used by the illiterates who have not understood the science. As per Indian sages, yoga is also a science and Mr. Elst seems to be making casual remarks by divorcing physical contortions from Yoga.
He then opines, “Yet, the claim that yoga dates back to “2500 BC” pertains precisely to the visual depiction of a well-known yogic posture. It very obviously refers to the Harappan “Pashupati seal” showing someone (claimed to be Shiva Pashupati, “Lord of Beasts”, as he is surrounded by animals) sitting in siddhâsana, which simply means sitting on the floor with the legs crossed and knees touching the floor. This leg position takes some training for people in a colder climate, and Westerners only encounter it in yoga classes; but it comes naturally to people in a hot climate. In India you constantly come across tailors sitting in that posture for their work. So, though this posture is found to be conducive to keeping the spine straight and freeing the body from stresses hindering meditation, there is nothing exclusively yogic about it.………….I don’t think any other asana postures except those for simply sitting up straight have been recorded before the late-medieval Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and such. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna calls on Arjuna to “become a yogi”, but he gives no instructions in postures or breathing exercises. Libertines practising the whole range of Kama Sutra postures got more exercise in physical strength and agility than the yogis of their age, who merely sat up straight and forgot about their bodies. “
Siddhasana is one the most important Yogic postures which was practiced by many Siddhas (perfect yogins). It helps in controlling the emotions as well as the sexual energy. It has four variations : the guptasana, vajrasana, Baddhayonyasana and the Kshemasana.
Bhagvada Gita Chapter 4, verses 26-28 state,
“Monists offer into the fire of self-purification of the mind by yoga, ignited by the urge for self-realization; all the senses and their actions as well as the life breath and its functions. There are others donating their possessions in charity as sacrifice; performing austerities and penance as sacrifice, practicing the eightfold mystic yoga system as sacrifice and studying the Vedas and aquiring transcendental knowledge as sacrifice; all enlightened beings and the performers of strict vows. Some others offer the outgoing breath to the incoming breath and the incoming breath to the outgoing breath; in this way checking the flow of both the incoming and outgoing breaths they arduously practice breath control. Others strictly reducing their food intake offer the senses into the life breath.”
Bhagvad Gita Chapter 6, verses 11-14 state,
“In a sacred and purified place after establishing a seat neither too high nor too low of kusa grass, deerskin or natural cloth; thereupon sitting firmly on that seat controlling the mind and activities of the senses making the mind one pointed; one in realization should meditate by the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness for purifying the mind. Holding the body, head and neck straight, umoving and stable, gazing upon the tip of the nose and not glancing in any direction, fixed in the vow of celibacy, with an unagitated mind, fearless, completely subduing the mind; the renunciate should sit concentrating the mind upon me the Supreme Lord as the Ultimate Goal.”
What Mr. Elst doesn’t realize is that “breath control” is one of the basic building blocks of Yoga for the stillness of mind and bodily control. The Bhagvad Gita not only summarizes the Vedic thought but also the Yogic branch. It connotes that the Yoga practice was known at the time of Mahabharata and we can obviously see, in above verses from Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna “briefing” about the posture and checking the flow of the breath which is contrary to Mr.Elst’s casual remarks.
Yoga is not about “sitting up straight and forgetting one’s body”, but controlling one’s own body as well as mind. One cannot control his breathing if he forgets about his lungs, his heart beat if he forgets about his heart and even for bodily maintenance action is required [BG 3.8].
In his article, he further states, “Much of Tantra is a Chinese import that has been so thoroughly indianized, e.g. by personifying various energy centres as “gods”, that Indians and Westerners haven’t even noticed its newness vis-à-vis Vedic or otherwise anciently Indian tradition.” He concludes, “As late as the 19th century, novelties were added to the array of hatha yoga techniques, partly under the influences of British military drill. Particularly the standing techniques are mostly late additions. Consider hatha yoga a modern innovation.“
One may wonder, if Koenraad Elst even knows the basics of Yoga, Indian sciences, history and tradition. He seems to making casual remarks which can be seen as a mockery of ancient Indian sciences. It wouldn’t be surprising if he says next that yoga is not a part of ancient Indian tradition.
In other cases, Koenraad Elst seem to be mocking researchers like PN Oak in his article on “The Incurable Hindu Fondness for PN Oak” with words like ‘amateur’ and phrases like ‘child misunderstanding a text’ and only superficially questioning the existing indepth articles by him. He talks about Latin, greek and Sanskrit in context of PN Oak’s research, but not about how old each of these languages or the corresponding civilizations are to be arguing on the import and export of the linguistic words in his article.
Vedic timeline states the entire cycle of four yugas as 4320000 years and originally the vedic knowlede was passed in oral tradition. Mahabharat itself is stated to be atleast 5500 BC old and some puranas we have the mention of dinosaur like creatures too. The exact age of Rigveda alone is still unknown. In his little comparison of languages, he fails to point if latin and greek literature have similar events and traditions as presented extensively by the shruti and the smriti cannon in Sanskrit. He questions the architecture of Taj-mahal as it doesn’t conforms to the “Hindu building, Hindu site, Hindu temple past”. He doesn’t question its name, history and the vedic inscriptions as shown in the PN Oak’s articles.
One might ask Mr.Elst as to what exactly is a “Hindu temple design”? Many Indians percieve ancient temples as a place for Vedic research. The Sun temple, Konark, has a sundial which presents the time of the day. Many sages performed research on consciousness via meditation, chanting mantras whose sound needs to precise with particular frequency and length. It has been established that the Egyptian civilization had a striking similarity with the Vedic civilization.
The research by R. Balasubramaniam of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur  shows that
– The unit of length called angulam — mentioned in Kautilya’s treatise Arthasastra dated 300 BC — was used without a break by Indian builders for over 3,900 years until the British imposed their units in the 18th century.
– Angulam and its multiples vitasti (12 angulams) and dhanus (108 angulams) have been used as the unit of measurement right from the Harappan times till the pre-modern era when the Taj was built
– 1,600-year-old Delhi Iron Pillar at the Qutub Minar complex, found that angulam and its multiple dhanus were used as the basic units of length in its design. For example, the total height of the pillar is exactly 4 dhanus
– The modular plan of the Taj Mahal complex is based on use of grids of sides measuring 60 and 90 vitasti
– The design and architecture of the Taj is based on traditional Indian units codified in Arthasastra and that “there is nothing foreign” in its design
History has been a witness that Mughals imposed an Islamic structure on the top of a destroyed temple. Why would Islamists employ a Vedic system as in Taj Mahal or Qutub Minar? In their article, “The Question of the Taj Mahal” By P. S. Bhat and A. L. Athawale , it states
“In addition to the lotus canopy over the dome, there are many other symbolic and sculptural details in the Taj Mahal which are quite appropriate in a Siva temple.14 Some of them are quoted below:
(i) Recess above the entrance: In the southern entrance to the outer precincts of the Taj Complex (i.e., the Taj Gunj gate facing the main gateway), above the door arch, there is a small arched recess. It is customary in Hindu Forts (for example, the Nagardhan Fort, Nagpur) to place an idol of Lord Ganesa in a similar recess above the main entrance. Could it be that the recess above the Taj entrance also contained a similar idol, which was subsequently removed by the iconoclastic invaders?
(ii) The Rajput Welcome Signs: The walls of the main gateway and the “kitchen” in the great courtyard are marked with typical Rajput welcome signs, such as the “gulab-dani” (rose-water cans) and “ilaichi-dani” (cardamon pots). The Rajput palaces at Deeg (Bharatpur) and Jaipur also contain similar welcome signs.
(iii) Ganesa Torana: On the main gateway, the entire border at waist-height is decorated with what is called the “Ganesa Torana” (the elephant trunk and the crown can be clearly identified). It is noteworthy that animate decorations are taboo in Islam.
(iv) Other sculptural details: Upon the marble walls of the central edifice, there are sculptural details of flowers in the shape of OM and bell flowers which is of great significance in the worship of Lord Shiva.
(v) The pinnacle: On top of the central dome of the Taj Mahal, there is a copper pinnacle which measures a height of 32′ 5 ½”. On the eastern red-stone courtyard, in front of the community hall, there is a figure of the pinnacle inlaid in black marble which measures a length of only 30′ 6″.”
It seems Mr.Elst relates ‘Hindu architecture’ to some set of similar ‘temples’ having a defined design and thus undermining other plethora of architectures that India is famous for like Jantar mantar, Konark, qutab minar (Dhruv Stambh/Vishnu dhwaj) etc. Perhaps for him, the egyptian civilization and architecture too cannot be Vedic in nature as they do not have a tag of “Hindu building” on them.
It may be noted that by the use of term “Hindu building”, his abrahamic framework and twisted logic, he has not only reduced the Vedic science and architecture which has influenced a large parts of the world, but also creating a mockery of Hinduism by relating it to some static defined design as in ‘Hindu building, Hindu site, Hindu temple past’. The Vedic science and architecture has influenced the whole world. Are those influences lesser because they don’t bear a tag “Hindu” on them? Just because Taj doesn’t look like a traditional temple, is it necessary it cannot be based on a Vedic design or a Vedic architecture?
LIN YUTANG (CHINESE SCHOLAR), “India was China’s teacher in religion and imaginative literature, and the world’s teacher in trignometry, quandratic equations, grammar, phonetics, arabian nights, animal fables, chess, as well as in philosophy, and that she inspired Boccaccio, Goethe, Herder, Schopenhauer, Emerson, and probably also old Aesop.”
Dr. D. T. SUZUKI (JAPANESE/ZEN SCHOLAR): “The study of Japanese thought is the study of Indian thought.”
Koenraad Elst though writes pro-Hindu article ‘politically’, but his work cannot be blindly promoted.
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